One of the perks of being Jewish is that you have two birthdays. The calendar we are most familiar, actually called the Gregorian calendar, is a solar-based calendar and divides each year up into the familiar 365 days, 52 weeks, and 12 months. The Jewish calendar is lunisolar in that the months are based on lunar months, but the years are based on solar years. Each month begins on the New Moon and lasts 29 or 30 days. Because the lunar year is 11 days shorter than the solar year, the Jewish New Year begins on different days relative to the Gregorian calendar every year. Plus every couple of years, they throw in an extra month to keep the two calendars roughly synchronized. Confused yet? Because of that, dates of the Jewish calendar drift around with relation to the dates on the Gregorian calendar, so in any given year, you could, and usually do, have two different “birth days.” This year, Jake’s Hebrew birthday, the 18th of Av, was on Thursday, August 14. His “regular” birthday is August 19th, tomorrow, even though when he was born in 1989, those two dates coincided.
We went out to dinner on Thursday to celebrate my Mom’s birthday without quite realizing it was Jake’s Jewish birthday. We had dinner in the restaurant at which we celebrated Terry’s birthday last year, and where we dined on our Anniversary this year. (The same restaurant where I broke a tooth a year ago, but that is another saga.) Actually, the only reasons we went back at all, is that they gave me a gift certificate because of the broken tooth, because my Mom was also at that dinner, but mostly because the restaurant has been very, very good. Up till now.
The food wasn’t as good as it should have been; the pasta dish I ordered was so salty it was inedible. And of course there was Jake’s voice in my head, “Dad, send it back”, which I did. It came back just as salty so I sent it back. Again. Jake would have approved; he was there with us after all. There were other issues with the meal and the service, I won’t go into details, as these can truly be filed under “First World Problems”, but when you are at a top-tier restaurant that is as expensive as this one, one expects the service and food to be top-tier as well. I guess the only reason I relate this is because whenever we dine out, whether at a five-star restaurant, a neighborhood curry house, a Chinese joint for a luncheon special, or just a slice of pizza, Jake is always there with us. We invariably compare the food to his standards, (actually ours are pretty high too), and God help the establishment who’s food doesn’t live up to them. Somehow we made it through dinner without too many tears, just a few silent drops as we sat over our dessert and coffee.
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The Torah, (Five Books of Moses) is divided into 54 portions or Parshas. Each week one (sometimes two … that whole extra month thing) is read during the Shabbat service. Each Parsha also has a passage from the Prophets that accompanies it called the Haftarah. Your Jewish birthday determines which Parsha and Haftarah is “yours”; it is the one that falls on the Shabbat of your birthday week. When a boy or girl is bar or bat (bar for boys, bat for girls) mitzvahed, he or she reads the Haftarah of that particular Parsha. Jake’s Parsha, Eikev was read this past Saturday. I asked our dear friend Yakov if he would read the Haftarah in honor of Jake. I would have done it except I don’t read Hebrew that well, and even if I did I surely wouldn’t have made it through without completely breaking down. As it is, my emotions are always perilously close to the surface whenever I am in shul, and this day even more so. It is the place where I learned of Jake’s death. What was once a place and day of joy and rest, Shabbat in Shul, has become a place and day of dread and sorrow. We stood together; side-by-side as he read the passage from Isaiah that Jake worked so hard to learn twelve years ago. I felt his presence so strongly, standing on the other side of Yakov, arms around us. I heard his voice from that day in 2002, a day of such joy for our family, a celebration for our entire community. People came from across the country, from around the world to rejoice with us. On Saturday, I wept silently for all the future birthdays we will ‘celebrate’ without our beloved son. We actually managed to stay for Kiddush lunch, the first time we have been able to do so since … It was both happy and sad to sit with our friends and toast to Jake’s memory. Normally we would have sponsored the Kiddush, had a fine party in his honor; he would probably have been there with us. In any case, he was there in spirit and in our hearts.
Tomorrow evening we will have a small gathering at our home. Just a few of Jake’s closest friends and family. We weren’t sure we wanted to do this, would be able to do this, but in the end we can scarcely let the day pass without acknowledging Jake’s impact on the world and the people he cared the most about. Plus, he did love a party. We will have cake, ice cream, cookies and most probably a good cry all around. Today I am in what I am calling pre-melancholy. A curious flat, listless state where I just wander from room to room, not quite sure what to do. Tomorrow will be worse. I sit in what was Jake’s room writing this, his books, photographs, cameras, and various collected objects surrounding me. His presence, or rather the presence of his absence fills the room. I look at the artifacts of a life cut so short, one that could have, should have been otherwise, but that was not to be. And I ask the same question over and over, as I have from the first instant … why. Why him? It is a question for which there is no answer.
Happy Birthday, Jakey Jake. Forever in our hearts, our Beautiful Boy.